La Shawn Barber

[V]irtually every significant racist in American political history was a Democrat. – Bruce Bartlett

Democrats, seen as the civil rights party, supported slavery, opposed civil rights legislation, instituted the "Black Codes," and created the Jim Crow system. The Republican Party, in contrast, was founded in opposition to slavery, and supported post-Civil War and Civil Rights Movement-era legislation.

"All of the racism that we associate with [the southern] region of the country originated with and was enforced by elected Democrats," writes Bruce Bartlett, a former domestic policy advisor to President Ronald Reagan and a Treasury official under President George H.W. Bush. In Wrong on Race: The Democratic Party's Buried Past, Bartlett goes deep into the history of the Democratic Party and attempts to set the record straight.

Bartlett discusses the motivations of Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson to maintain slavery and how Andrew Johnson ("a Democrat his whole life") tried to block post-Civil War legislation designed to protect newly freed slaves. He includes obscure figures like Senator Benjamin Tillman from South Carolina, whose "consistent theme…was that black men had some sort of compulsion to mate with white women," and Senator Theodore Bilbo from Mississippi, whose "permanent resolution of the race problem" in 1938 was to send blacks back to Africa and/or create a 49th state for them "somewhere in the West."

Woodrow Wilson, a liberal who implemented progressive reforms while in office, also instituted racial segregation throughout the federal government. And Bartlett notes that Wilson's attorney general "did far more to repress free speech and political freedom" than Senator Joe McCarthy, a Republican, ever attempted. But when was the last time Hollywood made a movie about A. Mitchell Palmer?

Franklin D. Roosevelt, who had a "reputation for being a progressive on the race issue," wasn't much better on civil rights. He appointed a Klan member to the Supreme Court and ordered the internment of Americans of Japanese descent during WWII. Republican Dwight Eisenhower, "conventionally portrayed as having done nothing for blacks during his eight years," passed civil rights bills in 1957 (the first since Reconstruction) and 1960. Eisenhower also sent federal troops to enforce school desegregation in Little Rock, Arkansas.


La Shawn Barber

Freelance writer La Shawn Barber blogs at the American Civil Rights Institute blog.